KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Tomorrow the United Nations will name Wonder Woman as its honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. That means the 75-year-old comic book character will be the face of a new U.N. social media campaign.
There will be a star-studded launch event attended by both Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1970s TV show, and Gal Gadot, who plays the super hero in an upcoming movie. The choice has many advocates for women's rights asking the U.N., is this the best you can do? NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: This appointment has been in the works since last spring when Warner Brothers and DC Comics, which produce Wonder Woman, approached the U.N. about commemorating her 75th birthday with a joint social media campaign promoting women's rights through tweets and Facebook call outs. But the news only started to filter to women's rights advocates in the last week. Their reaction...
ANNE MARIE GOETZ: It is an insult frankly.
AIZENMAN: That's Anne Marie Goetz, a professor at New York University and a former adviser to the United Nations agency U.N. Women. She says a big issue is the timing. She's been part of a year-long grassroots campaign to get the U.N. to choose its first female secretary general.
GOETZ: Months and months of campaigning by feminist organizations around the world for a woman to be selected for once in the U.N.'s 70-plus year's history.
AIZENMAN: Seven highly qualified women were in the running, but earlier this month, the Security Council went with a man. So the selection of Wonder Woman to represent women's issues came off like a demeaning consolation prize.
GOETZ: It's frivolous. It's fatuous, and it reduces extremely serious human rights problem experienced by half of the world to a cartoon.
AIZENMAN: And not just any cartoon. Wonder Woman, says Goetz, looks like a Barbie-slash-Playboy pinup on steroids. Like most female comic action figures, she's got big breasts busting out of a skimpy outfit, an impossibly tiny waist.
GOETZ: The message to girls is that you are expected to meet a male standard in which your significance is reduced to your role as a sexual object.
AIZENMAN: Maher Nasser is the U.N. official who essentially brokered Wonder Woman's appointment. He says he and other U.N. colleagues were aware of those concerns.
MAHER NASSER: No, we have had these discussions of course with our partners.
AIZENMAN: And they worked closely with artists at DC Comics to tone down the image that will be used in the U.N. campaign.
NASSER: The campaign art that we are working with basically is away from that. It doesn't have that caricature image of the wrong stereotype of what a woman should look like.
AIZENMAN: They're only showing Wonder Woman from the waist up, and she's got this cape draped around her neck and shoulders that sort of makes her bust less prominent. And Nasser says the social media campaign they're planning will be all about emphasizing Wonder Woman's girl power credentials.
NASSER: Being the first female superhero in a world of male superheroes and that basically she always fought for fairness, justice and peace.
AIZENMAN: And the thing is, Wonder Woman does have solid feminist roots. The man who created her in 1941, William Marston, was a Ph.D. psychologist with a very explicit purpose.
JILL LEPORE: To teach girls and boys that girls can grow up to do anything they want.
AIZENMAN: That's Jill Lepore, a Harvard professor and author of a book on Wonder Woman. And she says Wonder Woman remained a darling of feminists throughout the 1970s. They put her on the cover of Ms. Magazine. But soon after, Wonder Woman started to symbolize a split within the feminist movement.
LEPORE: Because a lot of people say, you know what? Why is she the symbol of women's power? I mean she's just so obviously made for men to look at and ogle over?
AIZENMAN: So today she means different things to different people at different times, like Maher Nasser, the U.N. official. He grew up reading comics, was inspired by Wonder Woman's fight for justice.
NASSER: To me, these values are what brought me to the United Nations.
AIZENMAN: But when I ask him what she represents for him right now, he says...
NASSER: A big headache now.
AIZENMAN: A big headache - Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.
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